All the time is work time: Gender and the task system on antebellum lowcountry rice plantations
AuthorPruneau, Leigh Ann, 1957-
History, United States.
Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis is an analysis of the task system, the primary form of labor organization used by South Carolina and Georgia lowcountry rice planters. It examines the labor process of rice field hands, analyzes the extent to which gender shaped enslaved men and women's experiences of tasking, and explores some of the ramifications of task work on field women's lives. Conventional interpretations of the task system claim that it provided slaves with more autonomy, control, and opportunities for individual initiative than gang labor did. In contrast, this study finds that tasking was a multifaceted labor regime whose differences from gang labor were less pronounced than previous scholarship suggests. Specifically, structural, seasonal, and managerial constraints profoundly limited slaves' ability to control their work pace and to independently manage their work routines. As a result, slaves' access to own time and autonomy could be quite limited. Significantly, field hands did not experience these limits equally. Since planters did not adhere to one uniform model of rice cultivation, task assignments and labor routines varied across plantations. This heterogenous organization of task labor meant that slaves' ability to realize tasking's potential for greater slave autonomy was disproportionate across plantation boundaries. Gender also affected slaves' access to own time. Field women's control over the length of their work day and hence over access to own time was particularly circumscribed. The origins of these limits can be found in how planters organized their labor force and allocated field work. Given these constraints, slaves clearly did not gain own time easily. Nevertheless, slaves persevered in their quest for any or more own time by trying to circumvent prescribed work routines. Historians have touted slave family assistance as one of the most important of their strategies. While true, such aid was complex, circumscribed, and sometimes gendered. Finally, I link these labor and aid patterns to field women's reproductive histories and find that they help explain the region's high rate of slave neonatal mortality. These findings provide compelling evidence that we need to lower our assessment of the relative benefits putatively enjoyed by slaves who worked in a task regime.
Degree ProgramGraduate College